Our studies this month have thus far examined the various steps in what the Westminster Shorter Catechism calls the exaltation of Christ (Q&A 28). Following the Son’s humbling of Himself in His incarnation, earthly ministry, and death on the cross, the Father began exalting Him (Phil. 2:5–11). The stages of this exaltation, as presented in Scripture, defined in the Westminster Standards, and outlined in both the Apostles’ Creed and Heidelberg Catechism, are Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, session, and return to judge the living and the dead.
The Heidelberg Catechism stresses how each of these stages of exaltation benefits us, and question and answer 52 deal with the comforts of Christ’s return. Looking to today’s passage, the catechism says that knowing Jesus will surely come again allows for us to wait confidently for Him even in “distress and persecution.” No believer should expect a life free from trouble, for Jesus promised that people would hate us for following Him (Mark 13:13; Luke 6:22). The persecution and difficulty we will endure are, to some degree, relative to the nation we live in, our station in life, and more. But make no mistake, we will suffer for being Christians, and faithfulness in the midst of such trouble is never easy. If we are confident that Jesus is coming again, however, we know that the rewards He will bring at His return are worth all the suffering we face in the meantime.
Confidently awaiting Christ, as Paul explains in Titus 2:11–14, is not a passive act; rather, it involves the active renunciation of ungodliness and the passionate pursuit of godliness. God’s grace has trained us to renounce sin and trust in Christ. As we wait for Jesus to return and consummate our salvation, we live out our faith in our sanctification, walking in the Spirit so that we might be upright, godly people (Rom. 6). We do not sit around waiting for Jesus to snatch us out of this world. Instead, we live as His disciples as we patiently but actively expect His appearance to judge the living and the dead, serving God in all of our vocations. John Calvin comments, “There is nothing that ought to render us more active or cheerful in doing good than the hope of the future resurrection; and . . . believers ought always to have their eyes fixed on it, that they may not grow weary in the right course.”
Although the Spirit of God must work apart from our efforts to give us spiritual life, we are not to be passive recipients of God’s grace after we have trusted in Christ by faith alone. The new birth begins a lifelong process of sanctification in which we cooperate with the Holy Spirit to mortify sin, do good, and serve God. We properly wait for Jesus’ return by doing His will, not by sitting on our hands and wishing for an escape from this fallen world.